Lorna Simpson: Gathered
In Lorna Simpson’s hands a simple photograph—a personal snapshot found on eBay, for instance—instigates a complex dialogue about the cultural history of the United States. For more than two decades Simpson has challenged viewers to think critically about how they understand images and words. Through her innovative installations of film, video, and photography, Simpson has explored how personal and social histories—specifically African American cultural histories—have been so manipulated by the culture at large that it can be impossible to distinguish fact from fiction. For Simpson, history, memory, and our social mores are intellectual structures that can become dangerous when mistaken for facts.
Artists have long understood that the simple act of placing two images next to each other can lead to a completely new understanding. For the exhibition Lorna Simpson: Gathered, the artist utilizes this formal approach in a number of ways. In the series ’57/’09, presented here in its entirety for the first time, Simpson juxtaposes found images of African Americans with self-portraits mimicking the poses. In another installation, Simpson combines photo-booth portraits from the Jim Crow era (the period of legalized segregation from about 1876 to 1965) with her own ink drawings to create one large, cloudlike formation. In Simpson’s video installation Easy to Remember, fifteen mouths hum the melody of a jazz version of “It’s Easy to Remember,” a popular song written in the 1930s. For Simpson, the process of gathering images of African Americans and utilizing them within the critical framework of her own art making results in a new life for these relics of unknown personal histories. Snippets of individual stories become part of a larger exploration of cultural identities and stereotypes, creating an interrogative dialogue with history.
Catherine J. Morris
Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art
November 30, 2010:
Lorna Simpson: Gathered presents photographic and other works that explore the artist’s interest in the interplay between fact and fiction, identity, and history. Through works that incorporate hundreds of original and found vintage photographs of African Americans that she collected from eBay and flea markets, Simpson undermines the assumption that archival materials are objective documents of history.
In one series, titled May June July August ‘57/‘09, comprising 123 vintage and contemporary black-and-white photographs, Simpson juxtaposes images of young African American women (and an occasional male figure) who posed for pinups in Los Angeles in 1957 with self-portraits in which the artist acts as a doppelganger for each model. She replicates with precise detail the poses and settings of the original photographs, arranging the work in grid patterns. Linking the historical photographs with her staged responses creates a fictionalized narrative in which the two characters appear to be linked across history in a shared identity or destiny.
The exhibition also includes examples of Simpson’s series of installations of black-and-white photo-booth portraits of African Americans from the Jim Crow era and a new film work.
Lorna Simpson was born in 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. She received her BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts, New York, and her MFA from the University of California, San Diego. After beginning her career as a documentary photographer, Simpson received her first critical recognition in the mid-1980s for a series of large-scale works using photography and text to confront and challenge conventional interpretations of gender, identity, culture, history, and memory. Simpson’s work is included in numerous public and private collections, including that of the Brooklyn Museum.
This exhibition is organized by Catherine Morris, Curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum.